There was an error in this gadget

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Origin Stories"

A baby is lovingly placed by his father in a cozy niche, within a capsule that is about to be propelled into space by a powerful rocket. The father is a scientist who had predicted his home planet was unstable, and would soon explode. The planet’s rulers had ignored the scientist’s dire warnings. The planet was doomed. There was no longer time to save its people from destruction. All the scientist could do was to send his son to a safe place. For years he had been observing a distant planet. The scientist believed that on this planet, bathed in light from its bright yellow star, his son would have amazing powers. The infant would be safe, and could grow to maturity. He could use his powers to protect the people of his adopted planet.

Even as mountains crumbled and seas frothed violently, and a quake caused the ceiling above the baby’s rocket to crack open, the scientist father remained focussed on his task. He kissed his baby, and whispered a blessing. The capsule closed, and the rocket was launched. The last survivor of the planet Krypton was headed to Earth.

That’s the “origin” of Superman. Comic book creators often craft an origin story to explain how the hero gained their powers. They also use the origin story to provide insight into their hero’s motivation.

The origin is an important part of the myth. It provides a pretext for the reader to suspend their disbelief, and enter into the fantasy. If the reader can’t do that, they won’t enjoy the story.

Origin stories have also had a function in religion. Preachers and teachers have used stories of wonder and magic to bolster their claims. It seems to me that in the case of Christianity, we have tended to look back to the time of the first followers of Jesus, and the first few generations of the church, as a time when God was more “hands on” with people.

There is a tendency to suggest, or even come right out and say, that God guided the minds and hands of the human writers of scripture, so that the end product would be perfect. All the claims that the Bible as we know it is “God’s Word, exactly” depend on the “origin” story that God dictated the script to these holy secretaries.

I think I understand why this has happened. People like to be right about things. We want to know that we are on track with God. A confident preacher that can tell us (usually in a booming voice) precisely what God requires can win a huge following. But how does the preacher know? What makes their religious claims any more valid than the preacher down the road, or on a different tv channel? The preacher needs a source for their “rightness”, their moral authority. That’s where the “origin” story of the Bible comes in.

But that “origin” story is just that, a story. It has no basis in fact. More than that, it demeans us, puts us down, in an insidious way. The underlying message of the story is that in the past, God spoke directly to people, but in our time, the only way to know God is through the Bible. This elevates the Bible from being a book, to being something we worship. It suggests that people in our time are not holy, or faithful enough to have the kind of relationship with God that early Christians had, even before the Bible existed.